Bullying in Hawaii: A State of Denial

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BY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER – Does the Aloha State actually have a bullying problem? If you are Caucasian and from the Mainland, you will certainly think so.

It doesn’t matter how long you live here, or if you were even born here. If you are white, locals will still call you a “haole”, a derogatory term that is Hawaii’s equivalent of using the “N-word”.

And the prejudice goes beyond name calling. White people are often treated with scorn. “Go back to where you came from”, seems to be the message. “You don’t belong here.” Sometimes it results in violence.

White children in our schools are harassed, intimidated, and physically abused. The last school day of the year in Hawaii, for example, is traditionally called “kill a haole day”.

Racism is as ugly in Hawaii as anywhere else, and is the cause of much of the bullying of school children and adults alike. Unless this underlying racist cause of bullying is addressed, efforts to stop bullying are doomed to fail.

To overcome racism we must be inclusive and tolerant of differences. The diversity of cultures and peoples must be embrace and celebrated to find synergy in our differences. We must realize that we are all “one”, with no group more important than any other.

Achieving this “melting pot” in Hawaii will be difficult. Language and cultural barriers are keeping people apart, making Hawaii more a patchwork of different cultures than an integrated whole.

If these different cultures were living together, say, in New York, then they would all be called New Yorkers. They would share an identity despite their differences. But you can’t do that in Hawaii, since no matter how long you live here you will never be a “Hawaiian”. That term is reserved for native Hawaiian people. Everyone else is just a “resident”.

Being native or not is an issue in Hawaii, and is a racial issue by definition. And while many native Hawaiians live with aloha, there are some who are resentful of what they see as foreign occupation of their islands.

If Hawaiians have first claim to these islands, then locals with Hawaiian blood have second claim, and immigrants, or aliens, have little or no claim. The stage is thus set for prejudice, racism, and bullying.

Of course, when alien people and cultures move in, they bring along alien plants and animals, too. Hawaii’s diversity of species from all around the world is a direct product of human immigration.

It is no surprise, then, that prejudice against immigrant cultures will result in prejudice against immigrant species.

The Hawaii government’s environmental policy gives preference to “native” species and has the agenda of “restoring native ecosystems”. While this native species supremacism is a national agenda, it has a powerful impact in Hawaii where it parallels political nativism and encourages racial prejudice.

According to this policy, species introduced to Hawaii after western contact are “alien”, and “don’t belong here”. Species introduced to Hawaii by native Hawaiians are “native”, and do belong here. The current focus of environmental management is to get rid of immigrant species to return the islands to their pre-contact “native” condition.

To those who desire and appreciate these immigrant species, this feels like environmental bullying.

Of course, this reinforces the racism problem. The more the government institutionalizes native supremacism in political and environmental agendas, the more it justifies and encourages a “we belong here and you don’t” attitude.

This is the recipe for hate, intolerance, and bullying.

For Hawaii to live up to its Aloha Spirit rhetoric, racial bullying must stop being tolerated.  The school anti-bullying program must address racial prejudice.  And there needs to be sensitivity classes to teach compassion and respect for others.

We must realize that what counts most about people is not where they are from, but what they have to offer.  Remember, “Aloha” means compassion, love, peace, affection, and mercy.

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